Why bother with tough, complicated horses? There are many horses who are calm, sound, well-mannered and easy to ride/train. With these horses, you can concentrate on your own riding goals (competitive or recreational). Many trainers have the perspective that challenging horses (especially troubled or injured ones) will only hold you back from bigger accomplishments.
Wouldn’t this be doubly true for a small charity (like LOPE)? Most financially successful horse nonprofits rely on large adoption rates (100-400 annually). They take in horses that fit well into their training programs and with the interests/job requirements of repeat adopters, prospective new adopters and professional barns. Their adoption volume and success stories understandably attract many donors and sponsors, which creates a steady stream of donation revenue.We are drawn to education work that helps aspiring young horse professionals learn from rehab and retraining situations. To do this well requires an in-depth approach, for both the horses in our care and the young interns learning from them. To provide this level of care, LOPE can only take in a few horses at a time within our current budget.
LOPE follows a different model. We are drawn to education work that helps aspiring young horse professionals learn from rehab and retraining situations. To do this well requires an in-depth approach, for both the horses in our care and the young interns learning from them. To provide this level of care, LOPE can only take in a few horses at a time within our current budget.
By our standards, it seems logical that we would thus reach out to horses who need that type of care the most — and who therefore would be less attractive to larger adoption groups (which take in horses who can be adopted within a reasonably short timeframe).
Many would question whether our work makes much of a difference. We are low volume in every respect. But our viewpoint has been that there is a real gap in the charity world for this kind of work. And that LOPE does make a big difference to each horse who comes here. In turn, these odd, challenging horses make a huge difference to us — by what they teach our interns and inspire us to become. Not only through their assorted rehab and retraining issues, but also through their characters — their unique (and often downright quirky) personalities and individual natures.
It takes time to help these horses and to learn from them. That’s the bottom-line. And not many charities can give that time on a mass scale and still maintain high adoption rates. LOPE genuinely enjoys this work and has steadily evolved into focusing on it pretty much exclusively.
The best way to illustrate this is to share the story of one such horse here.
About a year ago, we took in a horse who turned out to be our most challenging case ever (which is saying quite a lot). LP’s Tiger had an incredible racing career. A petite, elegant mare, she ran 141 times and retired sound at age 10. CANTER PA helped transition her from the track — and she then came to MidAtlantic Horse Rescue to be let down and restarted under saddle at their facility in MD.
LOPE had just started a Racing Warrior Program and we had a slot open to bring in one more warhorse. MidAtlantic contacted us about LP’s Tiger to see if she would qualify. We were delighted to have her join the other racing warriors here — and soon LP’s Tiger was on her way to LOPE.
But within a few weeks, she began showing an unusual lameness — followed by intense behavioral issues on a scale we had never encountered before. Thanks to our incredible vet sponsors (Austin Equine Hospital), a diagnosis was reached after much testing and analysis. LP’s Tiger had intense ovarian anomalies that were producing large follicles and hormonal imbalances.The decision was made to surgically remove her ovaries. However, LP’s Tiger had an unusual (and unlucky) response to sedation and anesthesia. She reacted violently when brought out of general anesthesia, to the point that she was extremely dangerous to herself and others.
On top of that, LP’s Tiger didn’t fully respond to Regumate (the standard treatment for ovarian issues such as hers). She still ovulated even on Regumate and her discomfort continued (which included the behavioral issues, such as rapid-free kicking, rearing and episodes of high agitation).
The decision was made to surgically remove her ovaries. However, LP’s Tiger had an unusual (and unlucky) response to sedation and anesthesia. She reacted violently when brought out of general anesthesia, to the point that she was extremely dangerous to herself and others. The type of sedation used in standing procedures also wasn’t an option. Despite her small stature (15.1H), LP’s Tiger was nearly impervious to standard dosages. She was capable of frighteningly accurate kicks even while swaying under the influence of dosages that would put a 17H warmblood in a happy twilight doze.
Two different surgery attempts were made to remove her ovaries. But neither was successful — and the risk was too high for her safety (and that of the vet team) to try for a third surgery.
Several months passed, during which we watched LP’s Tiger and waited for her to stabilize enough to try an experimental regime of physical therapy rehab exercises. But she never quite could do that. Whenever she ovulated (through the Regumate), she would have flare-ups of the hind lameness as well as behavioral episodes. Some weeks she seemed fairly normal — unless her routine changed in some small way (like the farrier coming). A simple activity such as being put in the barn due to rainstorms could set her off into a frantic state (pacing, rearing, kicking). The timing never seemed right to launch her into a demanding physical therapy program with only slim odds of success.
By early summer, we noticed that her phases of agitated behavior were getting longer. What used to be a few days of obvious discomfort was now stretching into weeks. Even during her quieter days, she began to show signs of restlessness and tension. LP was never fully relaxed, even when grazing with her best buddy Flavor (her favorite pastime). She often paced while she ate, nervously checking for signs of our neighbor’s cows, pet turkeys and friendly collie (all of which she saw daily over our fence).It became clear that LP was always uncomfortable. The level varied from subtle to intense, but the discomfort was constantly present. We realized that she was slowly, but steadily, getting worse.
It became clear that LP was always uncomfortable. The level varied from subtle to intense, but the discomfort was constantly present. We realized that she was slowly, but steadily, getting worse. As good stewards, we began to evaluate whether it was time to consider euthanasia.
LP had one last stroke of bad luck. One week she began showing symptoms of sinusitis. Austin Equine once again came out to examine her. Radiographs revealed a fractured tooth. There was a high probability that it would eventually become necrotic and require extraction. But because it was so difficult to sedate LP, the safety risk was too great to even attempt the extraction.
To our sorrow, we realized that LP had already met the AAEP standard for euthanasia prior to the tooth fracture. The inability to perform an extraction due to her issues made the situation clear. LP had persistent discomfort that often was intense. Her inability to be safely sedated meant that she couldn’t be given the veterinary treatment necessary to alleviate the discomfort. This was true for her primary health issue (surgical removal of ovaries) as well her current secondary issue (extraction of fractured tooth).
LP’s Tiger was peacefully euthanized last month. There was much sadness from both the LOPE and Austin Equine Hospital staff. Everyone had come to respect LP and her gritty fighting spirit. We were fond of her, even though she had tried to kick (with terrifying accuracy) all of us in the last year. LP was a small mare, with a lovely feminine head and refined build. She looked like a dainty horse with a demure temperament. But underneath that façade, she was such a force of nature ‐ with her huge personality, fierce competitive heart, incredibly sentient intelligence and absolute refusal to ever give in or surrender (even for needed veterinary care).
Many people would say that it was a waste of time and resources to bring her to LOPE. LP was a short, older warhorse mare with 141 starts who was too small for most adult show riders and too feisty to be a junior mount. When her health issues emerged, they were hard to diagnose and expensive to treat. LP had multiple hormonal test panels, a series of ultrasounds (about 7 in total), months of Regumate medication (10 ml daily), two unsuccessful surgeries and innumerable vet exams. Her maladies created difficult and dangerous behavioral symptoms. She required much supervision and daily management for her safety (and that of others). LP was at LOPE for over a year, taking a spot that could have been filled with multiple horses over that same time period.
No one could have known that LP would develop such a rare health disorder after arriving in Texas. Her unusual metabolism added another twist to the situation. Because of her inability to normally process Regumate or safely put under general anesthesia/standing sedation, it was impossible to fully treat her.
It took several months for all of these elements to unfold. During that time, everyone began to root for LP (while dodging her back feet). We were all offended at the ridiculously bad luck stacked against her. Such a tough little warhorse mare! She should at least have a fighting chance — and everyone who worked with her (me, interns, farrier, vet techs, vet students, veterinarians) rallied to her cause.
This was because of LP herself — her unique character and personality. We were in awe of her race record (141 races and retired sound). We were entertained by her delicately feminine appearance and how it hid the iron will of a first-class dragon. We were touched by her tough stoicism. And we were impressed (and slightly scared) by her formidable intelligence and alertness.
In short, LP’s Tiger deserved our best effort.
In exchange, LP gave much in return. Her rare case, complex diagnostics and surgical treatment attempts provided much education for the veterinarians, surgeons, vet students, vet staff and veterinary technicians who worked with her case. Consultations were done with prominent surgeons associated with veterinary colleges. Every veterinarian at Austin Equine personally examined, treated or sedated LP multiple times. Intern veterinarians and extern vet students assisted in LP’s many exams, procedures and lab tests. Numerous equine veterinary technicians and clinic staff handled and provided care to LP during her clinic stays. The LOPE interns attended her ultrasound exams, helped monitor her progress, watched her handling sessions and listened to lectures about equine ovarian maladies from her veterinarians.LP gave much in return. Her rare case, complex diagnostics and surgical treatment attempts provided much education for the veterinarians, surgeons, vet students, vet staff and veterinary technicians who worked with her case.
I learned a tremendous amount about complex equine reproductive system anomalies — a virtually unknown topic to me. LP also taught me how to more effectively handle troubled horses on the ground. She reminded me of the value of yoga, as I quickly mastered the art of scrambling around her hooves (while still urging her feet forward and back down to the earth). LP was an honest mare — even on her worst, most dangerous days, she gave me clear signals that something wicked this way was coming. I appreciated that — and I always knew she hated being so uncomfortable and out of control. She built a compassion in me, one based on understanding that effective handling (or wrangling) is often the most practical kindness of all.
LP and I got along well. Due to her erratic behavior, I was her sole handler and caretaker here. I liked her and she liked me back. That wasn’t enough to deter her from rearing, striking, leaping and kicking around me on her bad days. But none of that was personal and very little was within her control. She taught me to better discern a horse’s state of mind while in intense distress — and how to quickly assess what I could do to safely and constructively help. This definitely wasn’t the kind of education program I had planned to sign up for. But LP made sure that I learned every lesson, especially the one about practical compassion (and yoga).
Twenty-five people learned from LP while she was at LOPE. The majority were veterinary professionals or upper level students. The rest were dedicated equestrians, aspiring horsemen/women and horse industry professionals. She provided in-depth, “real” knowledge about important topics (veterinary medicine, diagnostics, surgery, sedation techniques, safe handling, horsemanship under duress and so on).
LOPE is a small charity. Sometimes we aren’t sure if the service we provide is valuable because its volume matches our size (small). But I like to think that the depth of LOPE’s work makes up for that. LP’s Tiger was just one horse. Yet she provided a wealth of education and field experience to a wide range of people, from top-notch practitioners to aspiring teen students. LP also taught us much about perseverance, commitment, grace under pressure and (lastly) honorable stewardship.
She was humanely euthanized at my personal farm, at a favorite hand grazing spot near a big oak tree. Her last moments were strangely restful — she did a graceful cat-like stretch and then rolled quietly to the ground. LP was truly at peace, for the first time since I had known her.
From our perspective, it was a privilege to have LP’s Tiger at LOPE. She gave us the opportunity to step up for her as fully as possibly, to stretch our veterinary knowledge and practical horsemanship skills, to appreciate the fierce heart and determination of a small warhorse mare. LP made us better in every respect. We will always be grateful to her.
Rest in peace, LP’s Tiger. Thank you for your service.
Our deepest thanks and appreciation to everyone who helped LP’s Tiger: Austin Equine Hospital and their entire team, After the Finish Line, MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, the LOPE interns, Joe Hunt Horse Shoeing, CANTER PA and the many generous donors who contributed to her care and vet treatments.